A conversation with WSU radio play-by-play announcer Matt Chazanow

Matt Chazanow, WSU play-by-play announcer (Photo: CFC and WSU)

SPOKANE — Fans know him as the radio voice of the Cougars on game day and the successor to legendary Bob Robertson, but probably don’t know much about the man. Cougfan.com caught up with Matt Chazanow during the week off from Washington State for an in-depth chat about his path to Pullman and information on all things Cougar.

Cougfan: You were born in New York, grew up in New Jersey, cheered on the New York Yankees, and went to school in Syracuse. Then, in your early thirties, you landed across the country in Washington State. Tell us about your pre-Cougar life.

Chazanow: I had a great experience at Syracuse with a very intense student broadcasting experience. Then, like all hopefuls, you hope someone will try your luck with no experience. My first job was to do pregame, halftime, and postgame for Pitt Panthers basketball and some coaching shows.

I worked for the predecessor to today’s Learfield IMG, which now coordinates media for hundreds of schools, including Washington State. ISP, as it was then called, was small at the time, working with only eight or 10 schools. I worked in a house in North Carolina, doing bedroom production and making $6,000 a year.

I loved the job, but had to take a number of part-time jobs to pay the bills. I worked early mornings as a barista at Starbucks, midday as a substitute teacher at a college, then called games in the evening. My first chance to play by game came at High Point University in North Carolina where I called women’s basketball. From there it was men’s and women’s basketball at North Carolina-Greensboro and eventual play-by-play assignments with ISP.

One of the highlights of my career to date was calling the last college basketball game played at the old Philadelphia Spectrum, Pitt vs. Villanova. I was 24, the back-up announcer, paired with the legendary Dick Groat as an analyst. Dick was one of America’s great athletes in both sports; a basketball All-American at Duke and an all-star shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dick was the third pick in the NBA draft and turned him down to play baseball.

It was the biggest game I’ve ever called, the place was sold out and I was seated next to a legend. It was intimidating as hell, but Dick was the nicest guy; wonderfully kind and humble. I almost cried. Dick (now 92) still means more to me than he realizes.

In total, I spent 10 years in North Carolina before coming to Washington State in 2015.

Cougfan: Speaking of legends, you achieved another one at WSU. Was it hard to keep up with Bob Robertson, who held the chair for half a century?

Chazanow: Bob was so good, not only at what he did for broadcasting, but at what he meant to so many Cougs. I had known his work for a long time and tried to be a sponge. It was intimidating to follow him, but Bob was nothing but graceful. In the end, it was an honor to follow him and learn from him.

Cougfan: With your roots in the East and Southeast, what did you know about the Pac-12 and Washington State when you rode 2,000 miles across the country?

Chazanow: I knew quite a bit. Washington State is as important and nationally relevant as any of the other Power 5 institutions. For my one-year birthday, my dad gave me the Fox National Basketball Package, which I watched endlessly. He used to drive my mom crazy when I stayed up at 9 p.m. on weeknights.

Cougfan: With every football game on TV, how has it affected listenership, both radio and streaming?

Chazanow: I can’t tell you how listening has changed since 1980, for example, but we’ve found that radio still has unique benefits. On TV, you don’t have a home broadcast, but you have a home radio show. Radio is more personal. Many people like to sync the stream because they want to hear the home broadcast.

Specific to Washington State, our streaming numbers have been strong in recent years, actually leading the country in viewing time. People turn it on and leave it, which is great.

Cougfan: You do play-by-play for football, basketball and baseball. Which is the most difficult?

Chazanow: They are all difficult for different reasons. In basketball, you have to emotionally accept that you can’t put everything. The game is so fluid, with 10 guys moving, you just have to follow the ball. I provide the essentials – who, what, where and when – and depend on Craig Ehlo (color analyst) to cover the hows and whys.

Baseball is the height of drama, but it’s like little drops in a bucket. It takes forever to get there and you have to make it fun and entertaining. There are also more explanations in baseball, as fans don’t always have the same level of knowledge and intensity as football fans.

Football is a completely different beast. Football fans, especially Cougar fans, know the players and coaches well. The best part of college football is the pattern variance. The classic example was the Cheez-It Bowl where you knew the Cougs would throw it 70 times and the Air Force would throw it 70 times.

I like football for the event that it is and basketball because it’s so intimate.

Cougfan: Where are the best places to stream a football match?

Chazanow: Lines of sight, yard lines and height are the things that really matter to me. Martin Stadium, by far, is the best in the country; as good as possible.

Aside from Pullman, one of my favorites was Reser Stadium before the renovation. The LA Coliseum is fine. The same goes for Oregon, Utah and Colorado. My least favorite is the Rose Bowl because of the steepness and the long distance between the stand and the field.

SOME GREAT CALLS FROM MATT CHAZANOW…

Cougfan: With the current football season, how is your typical week, from Sunday to Saturday.

Chazanow: During my first three years with WSU, my wife Ashley and I lived in Pullman. Then in 2018 we moved to Spokane when she landed a great job at MultiCare. The other big change for us was becoming parents – my son Nathan is now 2 years old.

So Sunday is set aside as our exclusive family day. It’s good. I don’t watch the NFL much anymore.

Preparation for the game begins on Monday when I start assembling my charts – stats, notes and quotes – which I place on cardboard and bring to the booth on Saturday.

Tuesday, I go to Pullman to train. Afterwards, I chat with the players and the coaches, then I go home to continue working on the boards on Tuesday evening and Wednesday.

Thursday, I spend the whole day at the Pullman, starting with training and continuing with the coaches’ show. I also review movies, making sure to use the DVR for every game. Our radio booth in the stadium is my office on Pullman workdays.

On Fridays, if we’re not on the road, I’m home. Alex Brink (color analyst) usually flies into Spokane and stays at my house and we drive together to Pullman on Saturday. Ideally, we like to arrive at the stadium four hours before kick-off.

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Cougfan: Do you have a lot of interaction with opposing school broadcast teams?

Chazanov: Yes. It’s a tight-knit group. I spoke to Pete Arbogast when we went to USC and had a great visit with Joe Starkey, who is retiring at Cal after 48 years. It was a bit surreal. It’s hard to think of Joe as a peer, just like I couldn’t think of Bob Robertson as a peer. Even though I did this for 40 years, they would still be the guys I looked up to when I came along.

Cougfan: You and Alex Brink take center stage on the air, but it takes other people to pull off a good show.

Chazanow: That’s true. We couldn’t do it without Jerry Kyllo, our engineer/producer, and Jessamine McIntyre, our secondary reporter. Jerry is nationally known for his production standards and Jess, now in her 11th year, is one of the most experienced secondary reporters in the country.

Alex is also a great partner. His preparation and knowledge of the game is second to none. Our post-game show with Derek Deis, Billy Newman and Grady Emmerson also adds great perspective. Derek directs them really well. We have an absolutely superb team.

Cougfan: You’ve been a Cougar for eight years and have visited dozens of colleges from coast to coast. What makes WSU special?

Chazanow: I won’t name any other schools I don’t like (none in the Pac), but I will say Washington State isn’t a cookie-cutter sterile environment. Not a day goes by that I drive in Pullman that I don’t find it gorgeous, emerald green or golden. When you come here and experience it, you see why others love it too. It’s just awesome.

Related: Views from WSU Sports Elders Dick Fry and Rod Commons

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